Sunday, 4 October 2009

Southgate fights back

Its been a tough week for Boro boss Gareth Southgate and at times the pressure has started to show. The manager was the target of abuse from sections of the Riverside's smallest ever league crowd after the defeat to Leicester on Tuesday night. Southgate's response was somewhat prickly. "I don't think what the fans think about me matters," he told the press. "Clearly my relationship with some supporters has changed. I have my own feeling on that but I'll keep them to myself."

"Everyone has an opinion now," continued Southgate. "It's opinion without accountability. But I don't need mollycoddling. I'm a big bloke. I accept stick. I've got to."

The manager was probably therefore entitled to a smile after a 2-0 triumph at Reading yesterday, extending the Royals' winless run in front of their home fans to an epic 14 games. Its a sequence that puts Boro's Riverside wobbles into context. It was Boro's fourth away win of the season, with the team having taken 13 points and scored 13 goals in six games, as Southgate always likes to say, "on our travels". 

The deadlock was broken in a similar manner at the modestly titled Madejski Stadium as it had been in the previous away game at Coventry. Adam Johnson swung in a corner from the right, which was emphatically met by Sean St Ledger. Leroy Lita claimed the last touch without convincing neutral observers.

The recalled Lita, warmly welcomed by fans of his former club, was the undisputed scorer of the second. Twisting into space in the middle of the pitch, Lita burst clear of the defence and lashed a shot into the bottom corner.

Southgate pointedly praised the "incredible" support of the 1,500 travelling contingent. With Newcastle being held, Preston and West Brom sharing a goalless draw and Sheffield United unable to defeat Doncaster, Boro were able to make back some ground on promotion rivals. Boro are now third in the table, a point behind the Baggies.

With two weeks off for the international break, Southgate now has plenty of time to figure out how to tackle his problems closer to home. Boro haven't kept a clean sheet at the Riverside since the victory over Doncaster in August and failed to score or pick up any points in the last two home fixtures. Boro will be under pressure to take six points from back-to-back games against Watford and Derby - as a point of comparison, it should be noted Cardiff City have beaten both sides this week, scoring ten times in the process.

Its a task that may be undertaken with the help of a new striker. Caleb Folan has managed just one substitute appearance since arriving on loan from Hull and will now be out for six weeks with a torn hamstring.

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